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Over the past year or so I've had the chance to attend a couple of Tech Field Day events put on by Gestalt IT, representing one of a dozen or so delegates, and to say these events were a blast would be a big understatement. Honestly, I've been watching Tech Field Day on the live stream for years, but actually being there and being a part of the craziness was awesome.
Before we get too much into why the Tech Field Day events are important to the tech industry as whole, let's first look at what Tech Field Day is. The events normally focus on a specific realm within the IT industry, including virtualization, networking, wireless, storage and data, as well as general events which tend to be a mixture of everything. Gestalt IT, the company overseeing Tech Field Day events describes it as follows:
"Our Field Day events bring together innovative IT product vendors and independent thought leaders to share information and opinions in a presentation and discussion format. Independent bloggers, speakers, freelance writers, and podcasters have a public presence that has immense influence on the ways that products and companies are perceived and by IT practitioners."
The key for me in this description is "independent thought leaders" and even more so, the word independent. Lately, we have seen the corporate sponsored vendor events taking charge in the IT conference space, like VMworld, EMC World, Dell World, X World, etc. They are all chalked full of marketing and sales agendas and rightly so, as they are sponsored and put on by the vendors. Now, this isn't to say that Tech Field Day isn't sponsored by vendors because it absolutely is -- that's how they get those two-hour timeslots in front of the delegates and live stream to the world.
The difference is that each and every delegate is independent, doesn't work for a particular vendor, and hopefully doesn't feel the need to express jaded opinions or having a certain loyalty to anyone.
This unbiased opinion is key to the success of Tech Field Day. By removing any relationships between the presenters and audience, we are left with a dozen or so separate opinions on the vendor, the technology, and more importantly, the product. In this day and age, it seems to be much harder getting this unbiased opinion. We are seeing sponsored blog posts, independent bloggers being hired by vendors, and with that comes more slanted information (or information slightly influenced by "the hand that feeds you"). One of the goals of Tech Field Day is to remove that slant, leaving you with 12 opinions in regards to the actual product, not just that of the vendor or the people who work for them.
Another key success factor of Tech Field Day is the format. The sort of "no holds barred" approach to sticking independent, unbiased delegates in front of specific vendors really dissects the presentations, removing the marketing and sales gibberish and results in an in-depth technical discussion about what matters most: the product. If vendor X has a great product and great people available to explain what it can do, then they will most likely come out on top. If the product is lacking in a certain area, or there is a flaw in the technology, then you can most definitely be assured that it will be pointed out by one or more of the delegates -- and not in any brief manner. It will be an in-depth conversation that may take up more time than the vendor prefers.
Yet, as scary as that sounds for the vendors, we still see them participating in Tech Field Day events over and over again, as well as new vendors moving into the space. The reason for this is delegate selection. The delegates normally have a following on Twitter or a readership of their blogs and, for the most part, their opinions and thoughts tend to hold some value throughout the IT community. Having this type of support behind your product has proven to be invaluable to a vendor. That's why we see companies participating multiple times per year and vendors choosing to save major announcements for Tech Field Day events. Start-ups also plan to come out of stealth during a Tech Field Day event, which can be a truly unique experience for both the vendor and the delegates sitting around the table.
Also it's no surprise that the IT buying process is definitely experiencing change. The days of sales leads and email blasts seem to have less of an effect, and the amount of resources that a customer has at their fingertips before purchasing a product is on the rise. Customers have the option to read white papers and forums, download trials and even evaluate live hosted labs. The challenge with all this information is the customer needs to be able to remove the marketing and the sales from the actual product, and the information coming out the Tech Field Day events -- whether it's the videos, presentations or the subsequent delegate and community blog posts -- gives the customer a true representation of the product.
Although Tech Field Day doesn't come with the perks of a big vendor-based conference like a lavish light show during the keynote or an expensive customer party with a concert, it does have results. Those results include an unbiased, honest evaluation of the vendor, their product, and the technology, no matter if it's positive or negative.
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